City Vision

Hundreds left destitute as fires blaze path of misery during festive season

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Two children holding a cup of soup dished out at Phola Park on Monday 9 January after a blaze ripped through the informal settlement.PHOTO: MZWANELE MKALIPI
Two children holding a cup of soup dished out at Phola Park on Monday 9 January after a blaze ripped through the informal settlement.PHOTO: MZWANELE MKALIPI

As millions of people across the globe celebrated New Year’s Day, it was a bitter day for Phola Park, Philippi residents.

The area experienced two fires in a space of five days.

In the first incident, on Sunday 1 January a devastating fire killed one woman and destroyed 247 shacks.

A staggering 760 people were left displaced.

In a second incident, on Thursday 5 January, 75 shacks were ravaged by fire and 378 people were left without a roof over their heads.

When City Vision visited the area on Monday 9 January, young and old residents lined up for food from the donors on site.

Most of the debris had been cleared but there was no construction. The victims had sought refuge from family members and friends.

A community leader Hlumisa Ntusi told City Vision it was around 02:00 when screams of ‘kuyatsha’ reverberated through the area.

“When we woke up, the fire was already huge and was assisted by the strong winds. As is the case in informal settlements, there was no time to rescue anything, because we don’t have space, shacks are close to each other,” she said.

“So many people were home in the Eastern Cape and will come back to find an open space where they had their shacks. This incident was shocking, because we have had fires before, but it was nothing close to what we experienced on that evening,” said Ntusi.

She said a lot of people are without identity documents (IDs) which made it even more difficult for them to access government social grants.

Ntusi said victims were assisted by the Gift of the Givers for food.

Charlotte Powell, the spokesperson for Disaster Risk Management Disaster Risk Management, confirmed both fires. “A woman sustained fatal burn wounds when a fire swept through the Phola Park Informal Settlement, in Philippi, Sunday 1 January. The City’s Fire and Rescue Service was alerted to the fire at 02.40, with reports indicating that structures were on fire off Rochester Road,” she said.

“Several crews were dispatched and the first arriving Officer confirmed that numerous structures were burning. A total of 12 firefighting appliances and more than 50 staff battled the blaze which was brought under control at about 06:00. The body of the woman who died, was found among the debris,” said Powell.

She said the cause of the fire is unknown and the scene was handed to the South African Police Service (Saps).

In the second incident, Powell said officials completed the assessment, and the blaze destroyed 75 structures, with 378 persons affected.

She said the Gift of the Givers, Muslim Hands, Sassa and Beautiful Gates were providing humanitarian assistance.

“Various City departments are on site and busy with assessments. Eskom will restore electricity, Water and Sanitation will attend to damaged infrastructure and Solid Waste will remove fire debris,” she said.

Powell said the Department of Home Affairs was also activated to assist residents with identity documents.

Jermaine Carelse, spokesperson for the City’s Fire and Rescue Service said a strong south-easter fanned the fire.

He said the City’s Fire and Rescue Service was alerted at 14:15 of structures alight next to the Golden Arrow depot.

“Several crews were on scene with eight firefighting appliances and managed to contain the fire at about 16:30.

“Just after 18:00, the blaze was extinguished and several informal structures were destroyed, leaving many residents displaced,” he said.

Carelse said no injuries were reported. The cause of the fire is unknown.

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